A bittersweet moment! The Northern Ireland Executive announced that non-essential retail could reopen on 30 April after four long months of closure, which felt like an eternity.
Don’t get me wrong, the opportunity to welcome customers once again is a sign of progress to be welcomed, but I have found myself tussling with the challenges associated with reopening.
Of course, making the comeback stronger than the setback is what we intend to do. However, without more details about the resumption of international travel, the idea of relaunching, quite frankly, has been frightening.
When we were closed, we were fortunate to receive a small restrictions grant to help cover our rent while we paid a small team to work from home.
The silver linings were evident. With frequent customer contact, a gentle flow of new enquiries and new bookings came in – but these were mainly for 2022, meaning we have still been without income.
Plus, with the relaunch bringing the added challenges of managing cash flow and paying salaries, getting the approach to the restart right is absolutely crucial.
We strategised and debated as we explored various options – should we open half of our shops? Would this cause customer confusion or send a wrong message?
In the end, our most important asset is our people, and we must consider what is best for them. We had a Zoom meeting with all of our sales staff discussing their feelings, ideas, and thoughts about returning to work.
Each and every one of them was eagerly awaiting a return, as they wanted to get back to doing what they do best – inspiring people by creating unforgettable travel experiences.
I firmly believe that passion, progress, and purpose are not only linked to good performance at work, but also in maintaining a happy and healthy mind. We have taken steps and introduced programmes to safeguard the wellbeing of our staff, which have been important, but sometimes nothing can replace doing what you love.
Without fresh bookings for this year, we could not afford to bring all of our team off furlough, so we decided to open all six of our shops with reduced hours, with only two people working in each branch per day.
To facilitate staff and client continuity, we brought back 18 people on a part-time basis, as this will help provide consistency and assist in forming relationships between travel consultant and customer.
As we have all learnt over the past 12 months, uncertainty will be a factor, and we may find ourselves playing a guessing game until we find the best fit. As an industry fighting and striving to reignite travel, we have had to dance in the dark and pivot constantly to maintain our survival.
The restart is certainly a step in the right direction, but we will have to be resilient and disciplined, and monitor the situation weekly to ensure we can feasibly serve our clients and simultaneously look after our staff.
Sandra Corkin is managing director of Oasis Travel